It’s possible to travel all around the world and never leave AirSpace

Saturday, December 12th, 2020

Digital platforms like Foursquare are producing a harmonization of tastes across the world:

Every time Schwarzmann alights in a foreign city he checks the app, which lists food, nightlife, and entertainment recommendations with the help of a social network-augmented algorithm. Then he heads toward the nearest suggested cafe. But over the past few years, something strange has happened. “Every coffee place looks the same,” Schwarzmann says. The new cafe resembles all the other coffee shops Foursquare suggests, whether in Odessa, Beijing, Los Angeles, or Seoul: the same raw wood tables, exposed brick, and hanging Edison bulbs.

It’s not that these generic cafes are part of global chains like Starbucks or Costa Coffee, with designs that spring from the same corporate cookie cutter. Rather, they have all independently decided to adopt the same faux-artisanal aesthetic.


We could call this strange geography created by technology “AirSpace.” It’s the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live / work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless, a value that Silicon Valley prizes and cultural influencers like Schwarzmann take advantage of. Changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you’re not where you started.

It’s possible to travel all around the world and never leave AirSpace, and some people don’t.


  1. Kirk says:

    Harmonization? Is that what they’re calling Gleichschaltung these days?

  2. Wang Wei Lin says:

    My greatest disappointment when I began traveling to China in 2003 and since was the ‘Westernization’ effect, globalization if you will. A host would ask if I wanted to go to McDonald’s and I would think absolutely not. I instead politely say no and ask for local shaokao. I’m no hardcore Sinophile, but appreciate experiencing a different culture on its own terms.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    To appreciate a different culture on its own terms, you must accept the ways in which that culture chooses to westernize. Never tell someone in a foreign country what an authentic experience of his culture would entail. I call that touristsplaining. Don’t ask, either. He may not understand the question.

    I for one am glad the squat toilet is dying out.

  4. Wang Wei Lin says:


    I never criticize the local culture. China has been around much longer than the West and deserves its heritage. If countries want to Westernize that’s ok by me. Except for the West in the last few centuries, human history has been the same everywhere. Dictators, kings, monarchs, tyrants, warlords, chiefs and emperors accompanied by crushing poverty and abuse of the everyone else. Mostly rotten.

    I agree about the squat toilet.

  5. Lucklucky says:

    “China has been around much longer than the West”

    Much longer?

  6. Kirk says:

    As a culture, yes… As a continuous political entity? Not so much.

    Although, you could make a case for continuous existence as a succession of dynastic groups…

  7. Lucklucky says:

    Was the language always the same? Religion?

    What are the characteristics for what we can tell it to be Chinese civilization?

    Or “Chinese civilization” is just an easy moniker getaway by us western people to designate other people?

    Is Communist China still Chinese civilization?

  8. Kirk says:

    I dunno… I think you can make out a pretty clear case for Chinese continuity of civilization, and an equally clear case for the non-continuity of their dynasties.

    The question is, where do you think the heart and soul of China resides? In the dynastic successions, or in the amazingly resilient bureaucracy and the class that supports it?

    I mean, good grief, how many generations was it between Ghengis Khan the consummate Mongol, and Kublai Khan, who was arguably a man transformed into a creature more Chinese than many Chinese ethnics? Mostly through the good offices of the Chinese bureaucrats and court officials that the Mongols had to co-opt in order to run their vast empire, I might point out…

    China may not have continuous government, but it damn sure has continuous bureaucracy. Friend of mine who was Chinese was telling me that it was a lot like how the Soviets wound up co-opting the former Cheka agents–Who else were they gonna get?

    From his perspective as a Chinese of middling position, all that he saw really changing was what books they were studying out of for testing and advancement–His grandfather’s generation was still doing the Confucian classics, his father was studying Westerners, and he was working out of Mao’s Little Red Book. Other than that, it was all pretty much the same-old, same-old–Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    Doesn’t matter who conquers China, they’re eventually going to wind up becoming China and behaving Chinese. The process is inexorable–The Mongols wanted to rule from nomadic tents, but within generations, it was all working out of the palaces of the Forbidden City, just like before they showed up.

    So, some aspects of China are eternal. Continuity of governance, however? Ain’t one of them. They’ll have a period of successful dominance, and then collapse yet again into a warlord era of chaos and confusion. It’s cyclic; happened before, and will happen again. Just like in the West. It’s best not to take these things personally, if you can avoid the animus.

  9. Lucklucky says:

    We can talk and say Islamic civilization: it has a set of beliefs, particular behavior. Same for Western Civilization, liberal government with limits to its power.

    What are the particular behaviors, beliefs of Chinese than just a geographic/ethnic power?

    Also if you adopt a western cult: Marxism-Leninism and use it to destroy monuments, burn historical books what are you?

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